Work in progress: celebrating women working on Valley Line West LRT, pt. 2

The Valley Line West LRT is being constructed along a 14-km corridor between downtown Edmonton and Lewis Farms. It’s also being built in offices, home offices, boardrooms and engineering workspaces. On site or behind the scenes, women play leading roles in the city’s largest infrastructure project. 

“One of the most interesting aspects is the number of professional women associated with this project,” said Jacqueline Miller, an engineer on the Valley Line West

“I work with lawyers, realtors, communications professionals, commercial experts and all types of engineers, and I would estimate that women make up at least 50 per cent of our Valley Line West project development team.”Earlier this spring, some of the women who work for the Marigold Infrastructure Partner (MIP) team shared their stories. MIP is the City of Edmonton’s contractor for the Valley Line West. Here are more stories from women who work for the City of Edmonton and its consultants as they help build the Valley Line West and break stereotypes along the way.

Aleksandra Turcza, Project Engineer
Aleksandra Turcza is the City of Edmonton’s Manager for Civil Design and Sustainable Urban Integration for Valley Line West. She reviews detailed designs for construction and plans for roadways, track, utilities and landscaping.

“I spend the majority of my time helping to identify concerns and coming up with solutions to balance the needs of all users of the road,” Turcza said.

“For example, I check where the proposed fire hydrant will be located so that it still allows room for a comfortable-width sidewalk and space to plant trees—all of which have their own operational and maintenance requirements that, in most cases, compete with one another.”

Turcza said she faces occasional bias as a female engineer. “I find I need to be direct and forward. [Engineering] is my area of expertise, and I am the technical decision maker,” Turcza said.

Despite these challenges, Turcza is proud to be on a major construction project that has municipal, provincial and federal support for Edmonton’s future.

“LRT has the potential to improve the day-to-day lives of so many people by helping them get places more efficiently and sustainably,” Turcza said.

“There is nothing proposed on the project that hasn’t been thoughtfully considered to maximize safety, efficiency and urban design.”

Before joining the Valley Line West project in 2019, Turcza designed roadways in Edmonton, including Yellowhead Trail, Parsons Road and Jasper Avenue streetscapes.

Larissa Ulcar, SUI/Design

Larissa Ulcar works with DIALOG, part of the City’s Owner’s Engineer team, and has been a part of the Valley Line since graduating from the University of Alberta in 2015.

“My favourite thing about my job is that it allows me to engage with all disciplines throughout design and construction and ultimately have an incredibly meaningful impact on the project when it comes to the look and feel of the Valley Line,” said Ulcar.

Ulcar is one of three design review managers on the Valley Line West. 

She is responsible for making sure facilities and structures like West Edmonton Mall Station, the 87 Avenue Elevated Guideway and the Lewis Farms Storage Facility built along the line fit into the neighbourhoods that were there first, tying into Sustainable Urban Integration (SUI). SUI means building the LRT in a way that preserves and even enhances the experience of people moving through the neighbourhoods.

Ulcar has also served on artist selection committees for Valley Line public art.

“I have worked closely alongside the City, the Edmonton Arts Council, talented local and international artists and [MIP] to best integrate public art into the Valley Line infrastructure,” Ulcar said.

Ulcar admitted feeling the growing pains of making her mark as a young professional in the construction industry, especially when she is one of the youngest people in the room. To some, these occasions signal “inexperienced.”

“In these instances, I’ve had to work harder to build the trust and respect of certain individuals before being viewed as their equal,” Ulcar said.

“For the most part, I’ve been surrounded by individuals who have treated me as their equal, openly shared their wealth of industry knowledge with me, advocated for my skill set and ultimately pushed me to be the best version of myself.”

After more than six-and-a-half years on the project, “there are always new tasks to complete and different complex problems to solve, which keeps me genuinely engaged,” Ulcar said.

Jacqueline Miller, Project Engineer

Jacqueline Miller has always enjoyed math and science and realized in her mid-teens that she wanted to be a civil engineer. She studied civil engineering at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

In 2007, Miller moved to Edmonton and has worked as an assistant project manager on two big construction projects—the Northeast and Northwest Anthony Henday Drives.

Miller joined the Valley Line West project in 2017, when the preliminary engineering stage started. She is the Roadways Design Lead working with ISL Engineering, part of the City’s Owner’s Engineer team.

“I spend my work day providing input on issues with roads and sidewalks and how they fit around the LRT tracks, as well as reviewing MIP’s design packages to ensure compliance with the Project Agreement,” Miller said. “I also provide technical support to the City’s land team and answer questions related to land acquisition.”

Miller is inspired by the dedicated women who carry significant workload on the project. “In the meetings I attend, frequently the women outnumber the men,” Miller said. “It has never happened in my career before this, and it brings a whole different vibe to the meetings—a gentler vibe that makes it easier to speak up and feel heard.” 

Miller said she’s excited to help the Valley Line West go from paper to people. “I love driving along a road or walking along a sidewalk and thinking, ‘I did that.’”

Hazel Battad, Land Matters Coordinator

Hazel Battad joined the City of Edmonton’s LRT Expansion and Renewal team in 2018, where she works as a Land Matters Coordinator.

“Land Matters is such a diverse term,” Battad said. “For me, it’s been a great learning opportunity about real estate, negotiating skills and effective communication.”

Battad collaborates with various City teams to acquire land for the project. She speaks directly with property owners, businesses and other stakeholders along the Valley Line West route. In all of this, Battad merges technical knowledge with clear communication skills.

Since immigrating to Alberta from the Philippines in 1989, Battad has earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Alberta. 

“As a woman and a visible minority working in the construction industry where most workers were usually men, I had to  appear confident in order to be acknowledged and not automatically dismissed,” said Battad. “I still remember how terrified I was as a co-op student, walking on a construction site to test soil densities and concrete. And, then, even more terrified having to tell the site supervisor that the results failed.”

Battad’s experience has taught her how important it is to maintain and expand a professional network, attend industry events, volunteer and follow up when connections are made. Once, she earned an amazing experience in the Arctic—working in geotechnical engineering at Pond Inlet on Baffin Island.

“I feel fortunate and proud to be a part of the Valley Line West LRT project. It’s a city-shaping project with a long-lasting legacy,” Battad said. “I look forward to the time when we’re reminiscing about the project and remembering the different backstories that are part of the decisions made—the magic behind the curtain.”

Terri Lucas, Commercial Manager

Terri Lucas is the City’s Commercial Manager for the Valley Line and has been working on the two Valley Line projects for almost six years.

“We want our procurements to give the City the best value in achieving its goals while ensuring the procurement is run according to the City’s policies and law, in a fair and transparent way,” Lucas said.

Procurement means obtaining goods and services. At one level, it can mean bringing in things like office supplies and personal protective equipment. Valley Line West procurement happened at another level—the choosing, negotiating with and securing of contractors to deliver “everything we need to make this project go as intended,” said Lucas.

That means contractors to deliver, among other things: the design and construction of the line, utility relocation, architecture for Sustainable Urban Integration, the rails themselves, the elevated guideways, the train storage facilities—and more.

It’s complex, time-consuming, detail-heavy work that ends with a signed contract. “There was some skepticism out there that we could complete the whole procurement in 12 months,” said Lucas. “But we did it.” 

Lucas also helps with claims and disputes. A lot of effort goes into fact finding and using communication skills to negotiate a reasonable outcome. “Negotiating requires finding something of value to trade and agreeing on the bigger picture for the benefit of the project,” Lucas said.

Lucas has faced skepticism about her expertise, especially earlier in her career.

“My advice to women working in a historic man’s field is not to try to be more ‘man-like,’” Lucas said. “We have so many strengths and diverse problem-solving techniques that help create an even more resilient and well-rounded team.”

Lucas knows the Valley Line West project team’s hard work will pay off.

“For years, I will be saying to my kids as we drive by the elevated guideways and other infrastructure that I contributed to building this part of the city,” she said.

Lisa Semenchuk, Lawyer

The Valley Line West is made of many contracts, agreements and long negotiations. A contract isn’t final until all of the responsibilities have been completed as per project requirements and any remaining issues have been resolved. 

Lisa Semenchuk understands as per.

“My role is… dealing primarily with contract management, risk management, claims and disputes,” said Semenchuk, a lawyer at the City of Edmonton working on LRT. 

Every day, Semenchuk needs to balance financial, environmental, legal, strategic and stakeholder factors—all of which come with a public and political backdrop. 

“My challenge is showing the team and the public the valuable, proactive role that a lawyer can have on these large infrastructure projects, rather than lawyers just being a ‘necessary evil’ when things don’t go quite as anticipated,” Semenchuk said.

Early in her career, Semenchuk tried to find her place in the profession of law and its stereotypes. “I was frequently asked which lawyers I worked for as it was assumed that, as a young woman, I couldn’t be the lawyer myself,” she said.

Well-behaved women seldom make history is one of Semenchuk’s favourite quotations. It’s from the American history of women scholar Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Semenchuk translated like so: “To make your mark, whatever that means to you, you have to push yourself and others outside of their comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to make trouble, when the trouble needs making.”

An artist’s drawing of the Brewery District stop near Downtown Edmonton—one of many stops along the future Valley Line West LRT line.

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows, left to right, Aleksandra Turcza, P.Eng., Robin Casavant, P.Eng., Terri Lucas, P.Eng., Danielle O’Brien, BPR, Eva Cheung, P.Eng. and Hazel Battad, P.Eng.